A recent TV program on The Discovery Channel featured well known British Olympic Athlete James Cracknell competing it what was billed as The Toughest Race in the World. The excellent program showed how James trained and prepared his body for a top 50 finish in a field of over 1000, no mean feat with some of the world’s top ultra-runners in attendance. The program documented how James encountered all of the usual problems during his training, injury set-backs, family commitments as well as food and equipment worries. Yet James was able to compete at the highest level of any Briton in the history of the race, far exceeding his original goal of a top 50 finish, eventually finishing 12th overall.
What was it that James was able to do to pull himself to this level of performance? We have already mentioned his training was less than perfect, in fact he ran only once in the 6 weeks leading up to the event itself. We have acknowledged the fact he must have a high level of underlying fitness, but as anyone that has trained knows, a gap of only three weeks from your last run can see your fitness levels drop markedly, so this cannot account for such a high finish. Physically James is also far from the ideal, over 6ft tall and weighing in at a muscular 100kg. There has to be another factor that helped James finish 12th, and indeed helps 1000’s less gifted athletes than James finish these ultra-endurance races.
His mind. It was his mind that enabled James to consistently compete at the highest level, even when his body was crying out to stop, and it is the same the world over for all ultra-runners. The one thing all ultra-runners have in common is not their ability to train every day, it’s not the ability to run 100 miles at a 5 min/mile pace. It is the ability to put one foot in front of the other, to keep going when others give up, to master one’s mind to the point that you can override your body’s desire to quit. A quick trawl through the internet will throw up a huge number of training plans for completing ultra-marathons; few of these truly address the one thing that will consistently get you across the finish line, the mind!
By training your mind you are giving yourself the best possible chance of completing one of these amazing events. As the old mantra goes, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, and anyone that neglects the mind will indeed find the ultra-marathon that much harder to complete, or indeed will fail all together. I am not saying to ignore any physical training plan, but to include the training of the mind in that plan. In fact by including the mind in your schedule you give yourself the opportunity to train in the event of an injury or other commitments.
We are developing several training plans along with our partners that will encompass the mind as well as the body. By challenging oneself in a particular way you can recreate some of the obstacles and challenges you will overcome on your journey to completing an ultra-marathon. By building some of these challenges in to your daily and weekly routine you will increase your chance of reaching your goals, be it to complete a race, or to finish in the top 10.
Beyond The Ultimate run the Ultimate Ultra race series. We are producing a series of Ultra Races taking in 4 different and challenging terrains, Ice, Mountain, Jungle and Desert. The next race is the Jungle Ultra, Peru.